With the approach of Memorial Day, two national LGBT civil rights groups have launched a petition drive to encourage Congress to end marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans.
Freedom to Marry and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, with the Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry campaign, are building support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.
SLDN was at the forefront of the push to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell” and Freedom to Marry has been driving the Democrats Say I Do marriage campaign this year.
The Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry effort celebrates military families as it denounces DOMA with a series of personal stories about life for gays and their dependents in the Armed Forces.
“This Memorial Day, we remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, but we must also recognize that our gay and lesbian service members and their families pay a price every day even as they serve our country – a price their straight counterparts are not required to pay. It’s time to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and honor these brave patriots by treating them equally,” said Army Veteran and SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis.
The petition states:
“The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) forces the military to treat married gay and lesbian service members and their families differently than it treats all other married service members and their families. Please end this discriminatory and unequal treatment of our service members and veterans by repealing DOMA.”
Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, said, “When Congress repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ it meant that our gay and lesbian servicemembers could serve openly, but not – as long as the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is on the books – equally,” said Evan Wolfson. “It is time for Congress to repeal DOMA so that servicemembers and their families will no longer be unfairly denied important protections and so that their employer – the military – can treat all personnel and their families fairly and equally.”
DOMA has two basic elements – one provision allows states to ignore out-of-state legal marriages and another defines “marriage” at the federal level as the union of a man and a woman. The federal ban on gay marriage means that legally married same-sex couples are denied more than 1,100 responsibilities, protections and benefits, including access to military insurance programs, Social Security survivors benefits, equal treatment under U.S. immigration laws and the opportunity to take leave to care for a spouse.
Last October, SLDN sued the government on behalf of eight married gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans. The suit challenges DOMA and three other federal statutes that create a discriminatory system in the military.